Silicon Valley Still Has A Big Diversity Problem, Study Reveals

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Taylor Tobin1.84k

The US epicenter of the tech industry, Silicon Valley prides itself in its international reputation as a cradle of innovation. Off-kilter ideas and progressive theories are theoretically celebrated and rewarded here...but the tech sector’s hiring practices don’t quite reflect this forward-thinking ethos. Reveal published a study of Silicon Valley’s staff demographics, and the region unfortunately still features a lack of a female presence, particularly in leadership roles. As far as ethnic variation goes, white men still dominate the industry’s executive positions, and women of color only show up in significant numbers in less-lucrative support roles. Through data-based investigations and interviews with Silicon Valley insiders, Reveal identified factors contributing to tech’s diversity problem and potential ways to move the industry in a more inclusive direction.

Women and people of color are underrepresented at all Silicon Valley income levels, but particularly in executive roles.

Upon publishing the results of their study, Reveal opened with the following very telling discovery:

Ten large technology companies in Silicon Valley did not employ a single black woman in 2016. Three had no black employees at all. Six did not have a single female executive.”

Reveal’s study included 177 top tech companies, and their findings about diversity at the executive level showed that a third of Silicon Valley firms lacked any women of color among their upper leadership. They also learned that white men constitute a full 59% of Silicon Valley executives. Also, while Asian employees make up a larger percentage of the Silicon Valley workforce than any other minority group, their representation dwindles at the top echelons, with only 20% of tech executives claiming Asian heritage. 

Women and people of color are overrepresented in only one tech-industry sector: support and customer service.

Without question, management and engineering roles in Silicon Valley operate within an established “boys’ club” (and, even more to the point, a “white boys’ club”). But if you look at the population working as administrative assistants, retail associates, and customer service reps, you’ll see a far different racial and gender-based breakdown, according to Reveal:

Facebook, for instance, had 21 times as many women as men in its administrative support jobs in 2016, a proportion much higher than most other companies that have released their numbers. At the executive level, it was two and half times as many men, according to its EEO-1 report.

Upon interviewing some service-level Silicon Valley employees, Reveal learned that upward mobility isn’t an easy feat for these hard-working individuals. Angelica Coleman, an African-American executive assistant at Dropbox, told Reveal that she learned to code while working her administrative job and asked her boss for the opportunity to transfer to the design department. However, “another white manager sat me down, looked me in the eye and told me, ‘If you ever want to be anything other than an admin, you need to go somewhere else. ” 

What can Silicon Valley do to fix its diversity problem?

Silicon Valley’s overly-homogenous population of workers exposes serious problems with the supposedly cutting-edge industry’s hiring priorities. However, Reveal indicates that there are actionable steps that hiring managers can take to shift the tech business toward a more inclusive dynamic. 

First and foremost, Silicon Valley needs to stop making erroneous excuses for its failure to hire a more diverse workforce. Reveal mentions a frequently-cited array of studies indicating a gap between black and Latino college graduates with degrees in computer science and the number of engineering employees of Silicon Valley with similar ethnic backgrounds.  Sources involved with Silicon Valley hiring often blame the “pipeline” between university tech programs and industry recruiters for the lack of diverse candidates, but Carissa Romero of Paradigm questions this explanation. “Usually companies feel like it’s more of a pipeline problem, but often, the pipeline has more diversity than the current employee population. And that’s particularly true when you look at race and ethnicity,” Romero told Reveal. 

So if the “pipeline” isn’t actually presenting a major obstacle, what’s actually holding back female candidates and candidates of color? One problematic habit could be the tendency of Silicon Valley firms to value Ivy League educational credentials above proven technical skill, says Karla Monterroso, CEO of Code2040: ““Stanford is not a skill. MIT is not a skill. Harvard is not a skill. They have yet to identify the skills that are disproportionately coming from those universities that make them top-tier talent.”

Silicon Valley isn’t hiring minority employees at a representative rate, but other industries certainly are; 8 percent of tech engineers in fields like banking, medicine, and education identify as black, which only 4 percent of Silicon Valley engineers fit into that category. Because of this, UMass Amherst professor Donald Tomaskovic-Devey calls shenanigans on the “pipeline” mea culpa. “If there is a pipeline problem here, it may simply be the failure to build the pipe,” he quipped to Reveal.

The industry as a whole needs to address its lack of inclusivity in a more direct way, and according to Reveal, a few major companies are taking corrective steps. After receiving a rash of (rightfully) harsh criticisms over its lack of hiring diversity, Facebook implemented specialized training and recruitment programs aimed at students of color, establishing a presence at historically black colleges and schools with high percentages of Hispanic students. Meanwhile, large firms like Paypal, Airbnb and 23AndMe strive to promote a culture of gender equality, and each of these companies currently employs a 40-percent-female staff at the management and executive levels, a sharp increase from the industry standard of 28 percent. In order to live up to its futuristic and advanced mythos, Silicon Valley needs to lead by example and address its diversity shortcomings with direct and measurable action.